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Views on Whistleblowing

Discuss about the Entrepreneurship Ethics and Good Society.

The Ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the principles of morality and the well-defined standards of right and wrong that prescribe the human character and conduct in terms of obligations, rights, rules, benefit to society, fairness, etc. In other words, the ethics encompass the human rights and responsibilities, the way to lead a good life, the language of right and wrong, and a difference between good and bad. This means it is concerned with what is right or wrong for the individuals and society. The term “ethics” have been derived from the Greek word “ethos” which means character, habit, disposition or custom.  Ethics are the principles and values an individual uses to govern his activities and decisions. In an organization, a code of ethics is a set of principles that guide the organization in its programs, policies and decisions for the business. The ethical philosophy an organization uses to conduct business can affect the reputation, productivity and bottom line of the business.

Whistleblowers, those individuals who call attention to possible wrongdoing within their organizations, are the subjects of much controversy. Some say that whistleblowers are noble characters, willing to sacrifice personally and professionally to expose organizational practices that are wasteful, fraudulent, or harmful to the public safety. Others suggest that whistleblowers are, by and large, disgruntled employees who maliciously and recklessly accuse individuals they feel have wronged them in order to attain their own selfish goals.

The truth, as is often the case, probably lies somewhere between these two extremes. Whistleblowers do call attention to genuine abuses of power by decision-makers in business and government. They do often suffer retaliation for their ethical resistance. However, whistleblowers may often be wrong in their accusations and their motives are not always pure. Their actions can disrupt a workplace, and may cause serious harm to individuals wrongly accused. Recent whistle blowing cases further demonstrate the potential problems facing companies that do not adequately address the issue. For example, after an employee of the entertainment company MCA notified his supervisor of a possible kickback scheme, he was fired. The employee filed a wrongful discharge suit, alleging that he was fired because of his attempt to stop the scheme. He recently received a favorable ruling in a California appellate court. In another California case, a jury awarded a former employee of a large drug company $17.5 million when he was fired after expressing concerns about product safety. Both companies have appealed the rulings. Whatever your personal view of whistleblowers and whistle blowing, as an organizational policy-maker you must consider the issue objectively. It is not an issue that can be ignored, due to the possible negative consequences for both your employees and your organization. For example, a recent review of whistle blowing incidents shows that among the whistleblowers surveyed, 62% lost their jobs, 18% felt that they were harassed or transferred, and 11% had their job responsibilities or salaries reduced. Fifty-one percent of the incidents resulted in external investigations of the companies involved, 37% in management shake-ups, 22% in criminal investigations, and 11% in increment. Although these outcomes may not be typical, they do point out the potential seriousness of whistle blowing.

Ethical theory and ACS implementation

According to Brenkert (2017), in philosophy of ethical theories Deontological ethics, emphasizes on the relationship between duty and the morality of human actions. The term deontology is derived from the Greek deon, “duty,” and logos, “science.”

In deontological ethics an action is considered morally good because of some characteristic of the action itself, not because the product of the action is good. Deontological ethics holds that at least some acts are morally obligatory regardless of their consequences for human welfare. Descriptive of such ethics are such expressions as “Duty for duty’s sake,” “Virtue is its own reward,” and “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

As per Deontological theory, whistle blowing is not an ethical action depending on all rules and regulation of any particular organization. It is become clear that organizations should develop formal whistle blowing policies as a way to create the conditions necessary for the effective management of whistle blowing. These policies should provide standard guidelines within which organizations respond to the ethical or moral concerns of their employees. Whistle blowing policies should have the following components as a minimum:

  1. A clear statement that employees who are aware of possible wrongdoing within the organization have a responsibility to disclose that information to appropriate parties inside the organization;
  2. The designation of specific individuals or groups outside the chain of command as complaint recipients;
  3. A guarantee that employees who in good faith disclose perceived wrongdoing to the designated parties inside the organization will be protected from adverse employment consequences; and
  4. The establishment of a fair and impartial investigative process.

To succeed, policies must have the commitment of top management and must be adequately communicated to employees.

On the other hand, The Virtue Ethical Theory holds that ethical value of an individual is determined by his character. The character refers to the virtues, inclinations and intentions that dispose of a person to be ready to act ethically. An example of virtue ethical theories is; suppose a manager is facing global competition, huge productivity expectations and requires an effective teamwork, and then his work character behavior should be such that he is considered as a role model for task accomplishment and his considerate relations with everyone at the workplace.

In this particular theory, the character of any particular individual is determined whether he is able to hold better virtues, inclinations and intentions that dispose of a person to be ready to act ethically. As per the context of whistle blowing it does not agree with the virtue ethics. Thus, the Virtue Ethical Theories are based on the notion that developing a sound character is what the life is all about. The character builds a substantive moral foundation for one’s actions.

It is believed that a person with the strong character has imbibed emotional, intellectual, moral and social virtues to achieve the self-discipline and do the right thing or want what is actually good for him. Whereas, the person with weak character finds himself doing all the wrong things, wanting what is truly harmful and making excuses for all his ill doings.

Virtue Ethical Theory and Whistleblowing

From the above discussion, it is concluded that ‘Whistle blowing is an unethical activity and employees undertaking such behavior should lose their jobs’ is not getting ethical as per the both deontological and ethical theory in the context of ICT ethical theories. Therefore, it is always discussed that ethics and morality go hand in hand. If you face an ethical crisis in the workplace, consider first whether real harm may be done to others if you don’t do everything in your power to correct the situation. Then, commit to acting ethically; first considering the consequences of your actions on others including yourself. No one is obligated to take actions that might harm one’s own interests. However, our moral obligation to society does obligate us to right a wrong when we see one that has occurred.


The study of ethics belongs primarily within the discipline of philosophy, in the sub discipline of ‘moral philosophy’, and so our account begins there. Philosophical study concerns the systematic and rational consideration of human systems of belief. The process of asking and answering questions about belief systems is therefore fundamental to philosophical study – it is not sufficient merely to ‘learn’ the answers that have been proposed by other philosophers! The branch of philosophy called ‘ethics’ is concerned with questions concerning how human beings ought to live their lives, and about what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. In this section we look at how philosophers attempt to answer such questions in a systematic and rational way. This section also introduces the fields of environmental and development ethics, and consider how these two fields of study are interrelated.

The background of the topic is penetration testing is also known as ethical hacking. There is also a white, grey and black hat hacker, from the professional, ethical hacker.  Not all hackers are inherently bad. When used in mainstream media, the word, “hacker,” is usually used in relation to cyber criminals, but a hacker can actually be anyone, regardless of their intentions, who utilizes their knowledge of computer software and hardware to break down and bypass security measures on a computer, device or network. Hacking itself is not an illegal activity unless the hacker is compromising a system without the owner’s permission. Many companies and government agencies actually employ hackers to help them secure their systems.

Hackers are generally categorized by type of metaphorical “hat” they don: “white hat”, “grey hat”, and “black hat”. The terms come from old spaghetti westerns, where the bad guy wears a black cowboy hat, and the good guy wears a white hat. There are two main factors that determine the type of hacker you’re dealing with: their motivations, and whether or not they are breaking the law. Black Hat Hackers

The Study of Ethics

Like all hackers, black hat hackers usually have extensive knowledge about breaking into computer networks and bypassing security protocols. They are also responsible for writing malware, which is a method used to gain access to these systems.

Their primary motivation is usually for personal or financial gain, but they can also be involved in cyber espionage, protest or perhaps are just addicted to the thrill of cybercrime. Black hat hackers can range from amateurs getting their feet wet by spreading malware, to experienced hackers that aim to steal data, specifically financial information, personal information and login credentials. Not only do black hat hackers seek to steal data, they also seek to modify or destroy data as well.

White hat hackers choose to use their powers for good rather than evil. Also known as “ethical hackers,” white hat hackers can sometimes be paid employees or contractors working for companies as security specialists that attempt to find security holes via hacking.

White hat hackers employ the same methods of hacking as black hats, with one exception- they do it with permission from the owner of the system first, which makes the process completely legal. White hat hackers perform penetration testing, test in-place security systems and perform vulnerability assessments for companies. There are even courses, training, conferences and certifications for ethical hacking.

As in life, there are grey areas that are neither black nor white. Grey hat hackers are a blend of both black hat and white hat activities. Often, grey hat hackers will look for vulnerabilities in a system without the owner’s permission or knowledge. If issues are found, they will report them to the owner, sometimes requesting a small fee to fix the issue. If the owner does not respond or comply, then sometimes the hackers will post the newly found exploit online for the world to see.

These types of hackers are not inherently malicious with their intentions; they’re just looking to get something out of their discoveries for themselves. Usually, grey hat hackers will not exploit the found vulnerabilities. However, this type of hacking is still considered illegal because the hacker did not receive permission from the owner prior to attempting to attack the system.

Although the word hacker tends to evoke negative connotations when referred to, it is important to remember that all hackers are not created equal. If we didn’t have white hat hackers diligently seeking out threats and vulnerabilities before the black hats can find them, then there would probably be a lot more activity involving cybercriminals exploiting vulnerabilities and collecting sensitive data than there is now.

According to Immanuel Kant ethical theory, Utilitarianism is an ethical theory according to which the rightness and wrongness of acts depends entirely on facts about the maximization of overall well-being. It is commonly associated with the phrase ‘the greatest good for the greatest number,’ and it typically requires people to act in whatever way will result in the greatest possible amount of well-being, where well-being is understood as closely related to happiness.

Deontological ethics meaning 'obligation' or 'duty' is an approach to ethics that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of those actions.

The virtue ethicist argues that what matters morally is not what we do at a time, but what we become over time.  Virtue ethics is an ethical view originating in ancient Greece which says that ethics is fundamentally about learning to live well.  The basis of virtue ethics is the idea of eudaimonia, which means “the good life” or “life lived well” or “flourishing” or “happiness.”

As with so many major concepts in economics, contract theory was introduced by Adam Smith who, in his monumental Wealth of Nations, considered the relationship between peasants and farmers through this lens. For instance, he pointed out the perverse incentives provided by sharecropping contracts, widespread in 18th-century Europe.
This particular case scenario is analyzed with the help of two ACS codes of theories like: virtue ethical theory and Deontological theory.

As per virtue ethical theory, white hats and gray hats both believe their intent is morally right, but in the case of the gray hat, the organization whose resources are being exploited may not feel this way. Perhaps even black hats feel that their actions are morally right as well, particularly if they are taking down an enemy. Different other researchers recommend that recommends that “gray hacking is a morally wrong action and as such should be neither condoned by administrators, managers, or other personnel, nor practiced by well-meaning computer professionals.” By extension, since these techniques should not be practiced, she would also argue that they should not be taught.

On the other hand, as per Utilitarianism theory, only black hat hacking seeks to maximize the pain inflicted on other parties (typically technological or political), it is the only variant of hacking considered unethical in terms of utilitarianism. According to Kant’s maxims opinion on Utilitarianism theory, it becomes easier to establish personal rules for self-conduct that are similarly appreciated by others, and his categorical imperative explores the underlying motivations for actions (whether they are motivated by good or by ill). Using this basis for judgment, the black hat hacker is also the only one demonstrating unethical behavior. However, Kant might consider the actions of the black hat to be ethical, if through malicious intent and illegal channels a hacker seeks to weaken or slow the advance of an enemy (or terrorist).

Virtually every day, one either reads in the newspaper or sees on the Internet some reference to a company or an organization suffering from the brunt of an overt attack against their networks. Hacking or cracking as it is known in some circles, has become synonymous with this new breed of criminal activity, hence to be labeled a “hacker” is understood in today’s society as being a derisive term. However; this was not always the case, as it originally was understood to be a “badge of honor” bestowed to one who exhibited a high-level of expertise in knowledge about various computer-based subjects. Unfortunately, adverse media publicity skewed this view and blurred the distinction between one who was merely an intellectual seeker of computer knowledge and one who utilized this knowledge for criminal or selfish gains.

Present day society is heavily shaped and influenced by the workings of algorithms on multiple levels. Near-ubiquitous in any data processing operation, algorithms play an important role in diverse topics spanning virtually everything that is happening on the internet and in wider computer sciences, governmental data collection and processing, financial markets, health-care and medicine development, educational settings, etc. The ethical dimension of algorithms, deontology, will move the analysis away from practical concerns, towards evaluating the choice for accepting the required conditions for algorithmic processing fundamentally. In order for algorithms to be capable of functioning properly, a certain lens or epistemological stance needs to be adopted, which in itself can be ethically contestable.

Decision-making assisted by algorithms developed by machine learning is increasingly determining our lives. Can transparency contribute to restoring accountability for such systems? Arguments for and against include issues such as the loss of privacy when data sets become public, the perverse effects of disclosure of the very algorithms themselves  (which can lead to ‘gaming the system’), the potential loss of competitive edge, and the limited gains in answerability to be expected since sophisticated algorithms are inherently non-transparent. It is concluded that transparency is certainly useful, but only up to a point:  extending it to the public at large is normally not to be advised. The paper will discuss the agreement and disagreement on the same topic.

Consequentialism is the philosophical tradition that, befitting its name, holds that normative properties are dependent on the consequences of actions alone. As notes, there are many types of consequentialist theories, yet without adhering to this basic statement, it falls outside of the umbrella term. Consequentialism, in a similarly broad manner, advocates that we should “base our actions on promoting good consequences and avoiding bad ones”, that is, by extension, to identify and pursue that which is considered preferable while minimizing any offsets. It is arbitrary what can be considered preferable, for whom, and to what extent these arbitrary evaluations should counteract one another, resulting in disagreements among consequentialists themselves. These difficulties notwithstanding, negative consequences themselves can be brought to the fore without resolving the complex and contradictory elements inherent to consequentialist analyses.

The concept of dual-use technologies refers broadly to the idea that there are legitimate and illegitimate aspects to a technology, where the (arbitrary) separation between the two categories is dependent on context, and can vary over time. Because the notion has been used in vague and varying ways, many authors have urged for a conceptualization that is wide enough to not exclude matters of real concern, while also being narrow enough to keep the concept applicable and manageable. To translate this into a workable definition, Forge attempts to take this message seriously, and come up with a workable definition. However, where the attempt to find a good middle ground in terms of in- and exclusions is praiseworthy, the final definition seems to be very focused on specific types of potentially harmful technologies: “An item (knowledge, technology, artefact) is dual use if there is a (sufficiently high) risk that it can be used to design or produce a weapon, or if there is a (sufficiently great) threat that it can be used in an improvised weapon, where in neither case is weapons development the intended or primary purpose.”

The step from public relevance and societal importance to ‘ethically contestable’ is substantiated by the idea that if there is no public relevance or societal importance, it means that it has little to no bearing on people. It would be difficult to base a claim for ethical evaluation on cases that do not involve people. However, this is admittedly an arbitrary step that could result in a ‘grey’ area of what is considered relevant, and by whom, but given the fact that Gillespie is precisely concerned with the arbitrary nature of this by focusing on how algorithms themselves inform such divisions, this concern is what underpins these dimensions to begin with, making the risk of this being a problem far less likely. This is also illustrated by his warning that “we must firmly resist putting the technology in the explanatory driver’s seat”. Note that this list of possible areas of concern is not exhaustive, and will in fact be supplemented at the end of this section. To reiterate: the goal is not to be exhaustive or provide any definitive framework, but rather to highlight important and pervasive dynamics involving algorithms, to pinpoint why these dynamics are ethically problematic, to start conscious deliberation with these insights in mind, and where possible to suggest practical improvements on current practices.

In analysing in which way algorithms can, from a consequentialist perspective, be argued to have an ethical side, several authors have attempted to formulate abstractions from the specific examples. While contexts vary greatly, efforts to distill mechanisms have been fruitful in identifying a number of patterns that transcend the individual instances in which they are observed. The GCCS, for example, notes three elements that, in general “demand ethical scrutiny: complexity and opacity, gatekeeping functions, and subjective-decision making.” Burrell takes up the point of opacity as key to understanding “socially consequential mechanisms of classification”, executed by algorithms. Following are some of the considerable points:

  1. Intentional securement, or even concealment, by corporations or the state, so that decision procedures are not open to scrutiny.
  2. Technical illiteracy on the part of those outside the algorithm-producing community, resulting in a lack of understanding and knowledge.
  3. A mismatch between complexity of operations and human understanding, in the sense that mathematical optimization of the analysis of data is difficult to translate back to the human level, leaving even ‘insiders’ puzzled.

Identifying the problems associated with algorithmic applications is the main focus of this thesis, but it would be remiss to leave out a number of countervailing options. Whereas the efforts to look at algorithms from an ethical perspective have only begun to develop rather recently, a couple of promising alternatives and additions have been proposed.A more rigorous approach comes in the form of implementing policies that directly counter some of the negative consequences of algorithmic functioning. This skips the step of first informing a wider number of people, and being passive about what the outcome of an informed discussion would be. Recently, the Council of the European Union (EU) has affirmed the proposed General Data Protection Regulation, due to take effect in 2018. The most notable aim is to inform those affected by algorithms and concomitatant profiling, literally calling for a “right to explanation”. This presents challenges for current commercial and governmental operations in the EU that need to be overhauled due to these requirements.

Conclusion:

The consequentialist analysis has offered insight into how and where algorithms are currently producing negative effects, and has provided a number of potential directions towards amelioration of them. However, informative as this analysis may be, it does not cover the entire spectrum of possible ethical considerations associated with algorithms. That is, as a method or epistemological technology, algorithms come with a number of intrinsic requirements to function that they can be ethically problematic. The framework of deontology can be used to evaluate the moral permissibility of accepting these requirements in various contexts. Again, the analysis should not be read as a simple statement against the use of algorithms, but rather in the light that being able to point out real ethical problems at the very least warrants serious deliberation on the conditions on the use of algorithms. These methods can be utilized for facing the situations related to the ethics in certain situation of the ethical dilemma and countermeasures can be taken for the delivery of the best course of action.

References:

Brenkert, G. G. (2017). Entrepreneurship, ethics, and the good society. In Entrepreneurship (pp. 85-128). Routledge.

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